Sneak Peeks January 23rd 2020

Happy Thursday!! Our designers have a ton of new goodies for you this week! Let’s take a peek!

From Scrapping Serenity

From Tinci

From Neia

From Aimee Harrison

From Jb Studio

From Lindsay Jane

From LDrag

~~January Featured Designers~~

I know – it’s almost the end of January and I’m just now getting this posted. I don’t know about anyone else, but work has been absolutely crazy. I’ve worked enough hours the last two weeks to take a full week off. If only it worked that way.

I had the pleasure to have The Cherry on Top and Key Lime Digi Designs answer my questions. Let’s see what they have to say.

How long have you been designing?

TCOT: I’ve been designing around 5 years.

KLDD: Summer 2013

What made you decide to design?

TCOT: I’ve always loved being creative on all kinds of medium since I was kid. I went from a full time professional to a stay at home to take care of my handicapped sons and I needed some other fun outlet to feel whole.

KLDD: I was on many Creative Teams and Store Team at a large digi site starting beginning around 2007 I think….After a while I picked up enough knowledge and increased my skill set to want to try the next step.

What do you use to create your designs (program, additional tools, etc.)?

TCOT: I use PSE/PS/Procreate/a sketch book.

KLDD: I am still using the out of the box software from right before Adobe moved to subscription. As the saying goes, If it ain’t broke…

Describe your design workplace.

TCOT: Disgustingly neat and tidy. I cannot concentrate in a mess. A glass of wine or tea is as reckless as I get!

KLDD: Organized chaos. I am absolutely terrible at putting away and organizing. I constantly make “digital” post it notes to remind me to do something and then forget about it. I have 3 EHDs that I promise myself will be THE ONE that gets organized. As for my work space, I have from the beginning, and probably will always remain a desktop gal. I can’t do laptop.

What motivates and inspires you as a designer?

TCOT: Absolutely everything! Beauty is everywhere. In a cloud formation. The way the sun reflects on a gently flowing river. The cat napping in just the right position…

KLDD: I love good color harmony, so when I see it on a blouse at a store I will snapshot it or at least make a note of the colors that were in it and run home to make a palette of it.

What is your favorite kit currently in your GS store and why?

TCOT: Awe, man! It’s just cruel to make me choose! My favorite template pack, (I assume you mean our own and not another designers?) would be the Planner series. I really dig those realistic, mock up types of pages, currently.

Link to all of the Planned templates:

KLDD: I Belong to the Sea. When I was making it, I was in my element. I live in a coastal area, actually on an island chain, so I guess while making it was like being home. Bonus factoid: That collection began with the colors in the Little Sailor Boy Tin element. A close second though, has to be Indigo Serenade..I mean you gotta check out the CT Layouts on that one. They make me swoon.

What was your first job?

TCOT: I worked at AARP everyday after school, weekends and summers. I started at 13.

KLDD: Counter girl at a deli…hated it and never did food service again…LOL!

Have you ever met anyone famous?

TCOT: The list is very long. I lived in Florida where many famous people can be found and I also worked as a bartender in a huge, popular club not too far from NYC. I guess the biggest names might be John Cougar, John McEnroe, Dawn Wells, Green Day, The Ramones, Hootie and the Blow Fish…

KLDD: I would say quite a few, especially because they are here to relax. The latest one was Norbert Leo Butz. He played the middle son in Netflix’s Bloodline (filmed here in the Keys) and was in original cast of Wicked. He joined the local guys at a jam one night about 3 years ago. He can sing! It was great to be in a small audience of 15 or so people.

What are you reading right now?

TCOT: I’m a super geek. I usually ready between 3-5 books at one time. Half fiction, the other half…dork material. Currently, on my nightstand and in the John is Outlander (#4), The 4th of July, The Great Cholesterol Myth and Marijuana Horticulture.

KLDD: I have been reading a series on the kindle- The Peridale Cafe Mysteries by Agatha Frost. They are easy to do in small bursts and am awaiting Book 20.

What is your favorite quote?

TCOT: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Abraham Lincoln

KLDD: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

What is something you want to do in the next year that you’ve never done before?

TCOT: I’d love to stop shouting. Next year, any year…I’ve never gone a day without shouting.

KLDD: Become wealthy..haha.

You have your own latenight talk show, who do you invite as your first guest?

TCOT: Ozzy Osborne! He’s a riot!

KLDD: Jason Momoa (Aquaman) would be a fun personality to kick off with.

If you had to delete all but 3 apps from your smartphone, which ones would you keep?

TCOT: I’d need a phone with apps first…

KLDD: Email, banking and maybe one game.

If you could have someone follow you around all the time, like a personal assistant, what would you have them do?

TCOT: Take the darn dog out every time he wants to go outside!

KLDD: I would not as such, but I would welcome a “collaborator”. Life is a learning opportunity meant for sharing.

Would you rather travel back in time to meet your ancestors or to the future to meet your descendants?

TCOT: Family…I’m an ocean away for a reason…I’d rather just stay right here and deal.

KLDD: BACK-remember the disappointment Marty McFly had seeing his self-centered kids…LOL!

What commercial jingle gets stuck in your head all the time.

TCOT: “When it’s time to relax, we’ve got the beer. Miller Beer! If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer.”

KLDD: None, really

If you could turn the ocean into a liquid other than water, which one would you pick?

TCOT: Check out last answer…

KLDD: I would not want to take from the sea creatures, so instead how about a kiddie pool of margaritas, like in The Last Man on Earth.

Such fun answers. Thank you ladies so much!!

Want to stalk them? Here are all the details:

The Cherry on Top: GS Store, Facebook Fan Page, Blog

Key Lime Digi Design: GS Store, Facebook Fan Page, Facebook Group

And make sure to grab the Daily Download. I know it’s late in the month. If you have missed the beginning links, you can always grab the full kit in the store next month.

Thanks for hanging out with me tonight!!

Tutorial Tuesday (Windows and Elements)

Following Up for Donna

Last week’s organization tips drew some great comments. Many of you have good systems for sorting and retrieving your digi goodies. But… there are some things that still prove elusive.

Donna had this to say: Dragging from all different folders from the finder is a pain in the ***, it was so much easier dragging from the searched results in photos.. Because I usually copy the files I plan to use and place them in a subfolder of my digiscrapping master folder, I hadn’t worked out a trick for that process that might streamline it a bit for those of you who prefer to drag-and-drop right from your folders into your scrapping software. Read on!

First I’ve shown my folder method using the search box in Windows. (Sorry, I’m not a Mac girl so I don’t have any tips for that platform.) I ran a simple search for “buttons“. The search box is at the upper right of the window and the progress bar runs from left to right as Windows does the work for you.

Once the search was done, I selected 4 buttons with a similar colour scheme, from 4 different folders. Remember, to make multiple selections, hold down the CTRL/CMD key while you’re clicking on the items you’re choosing.

Next, I Copied all 4 of the buttons.

Finally, I Pasted those buttons into a new Button folder I’d created within my Digiscrapping folder. Now, when I’m ready to use them in Elements, I can open that Button folder with the Open tool on the main screen. But that seems to be a little involved. Is there a way to select the same 4 buttons and open them in Elements without the extra steps? Work Smart, Not Hard, right??

OF COURSE!! I got Elements up and running. Then I activated that big Open button at the left of the main screen. But instead of having a dedicated folder with my buttons in it, I instead opened my Digikits folder and USED THE SEARCH BOX! It was something that had never occurred to me before. I typed “button” into the search box and waited.

Then I went through the results in the same way I would any other time. I Selected the same 4 buttons as before. (The image below shows the search results as a list. I did my selections using medium icons so I could see the actual images then I changed the display to a list so I could show you multiple selections.) When I had all 4 selected, I just hit that Open button at the bottom right of the menu.

And there they are! All from different folders and in fewer steps! I hope this is what Donna was looking for.

Her second organizational challenge reads like this: Having switched to using my cellphone as my primary camera these last few years has actually made it more difficult to group as events, etc because of all the random photos, notes, screenshots etc that I also take photos of. Open to any suggestions there…? This one is actually an easy fix. Both iPhone and Android have the ability to build albums with our photos. My Android phone creates some of its own albums, but I can make more to suit myself. Moving photos into the albums is as easy as clicking on them, going to the gallery menu and moving or copying the selected photos over. The key here is to sort them soon after you take them so it doesn’t become an all-day job. If you’re planning to use a group of photos taken on a specific day, make an album for that day. Sending the photos to the platform upon which you do your scrapping is the same process as whatever you’re doing now. If you’re using the iCloud, Dropbox or Google Drive or some other cyber-sharing device, that will allow you access to all your phone folders. Give it a try and see if it makes life easier!

Next week I’ll be showing you another paper-to-digi technique courtesy of Steph Barry. I think you’re going to love it!

Sneak Peeks January 16th 2019

Happy Thursday! It’s a holiday weekend here in the states! And there’s a cold front coming in which means its the perfect weather to stay home and get some scrapping done! Our designers have been busy creating new goodies to scrap this weekend!

From Down This Road

From Miss Fish

From JB Studio

From Snickerdoodle Designs

From Dagilicious

From Tinci


From CathyK

From Aimee Harrison

Tutorial Tuesday (Potpourri)

Decluttering Isn’t Just for Homes

It’s January. It’s bone-chillingly cold in some parts of the world (like HERE!) and unseasonably warm in others. The holidays are over, and winter stretches out in front of us like a long and bumpy road. There’re no truly exciting events on the horizon, so what’s a girl to do? Well, the flyers are filled with supplies for organizing our stuff… But for digiscrappers, we don’t need to buy anything. It’s all right in front of us! I think now is a good time to talk about organizing our stuff, and maybe actually making some effort to get ‘er done. This is how I do it, but I know y’all have your own way of doing things, The important part is to DO it!

It’s not as important where we start as that we actually DO start. For me, the place to begin will be with all the new kits I’ve amassed but haven’t unzipped. This is actually my New Year’s Resolution, to unzip and relocate my supplies as soon as I download them. I was keeping up just fine until my dogs started fighting in the house and I had to spend a lot of time keeping them away from each other. I have a backlog, and I WILL attend to it ASAP. I use Extract Now, a free rapid unzipping app that makes the unzipping part pretty easy. I make folders within my download folder into which I unzip the new goodies, which eliminates a couple of steps in the process, and it works pretty well. I still go through each of the subfolders, deleting all the duplicate previews and things I know I’m not going to use (like alpha sheets!). If the kit is templates, I delete the PNG files and the TIFF files, and I add to the name of the previews to include single or double and the number of photo spots the template includes. That lets me put a keyword like “single4” in the search bar and Windows will find all the previews with 4 photo spots. Once I’ve arranged my folders the way I like them, I move them en bloc to my digikit folder for the store or designer as appropriate. Then my download folder should be empty. Until I fill it up again!

The way I sort my digikits is primarily by store or by designer’s creative team, with the exception of Heartstrings Scrap Arts… I have so many of Bryony’s kits I need a separate folder just for them. Having said that, my GingerScraps folder is ENORMOUS!  (24.6GB without the kits sitting in my downloads folder. Thank heaven I have a 2TB drive on this laptop!) I rename each kit’s folder: DesignerNameKitName, unless it’s a Buffet kit, then it’s MonthYearBufDesignerNameKitName. That makes it easier when I’m doing a store challenge.

I try to organize my photos as I take them, so the job isn’t too daunting. I don’t care for the Organizer that comes with Photoshop Elements so I don’t use it. But it can be very useful for both organizing and retrieving your photos. The Help menu can give you some ideas about how to maximize your efficiency. The way I file my photos is in folders… what else? I create a new folder for the current year, and a subfolder for each month. I download a lot of photos from my daughter’s Tiny Beans album where she posts pics of my grandchildren. Those I rename with a suitable tag so I can run a keyword search later. If I’m looking for photos of Aaron, I just type in his name. These photos go into the folder for the month and year they were taken so I have some frame of reference later. I have a folder for the photos my friend Sandy takes and graciously allows me to ‘steal’ and one for the photos I download from Pixabay. My Pixabay folder is broken down into subfolders by topic: Kids, Insects/Flowers, Animals, Portraits, Scenic and such. This method of filing makes it a lot faster to find what I’m looking for.

I also organize my layouts. I have folders for each month’s challenges, with subfolders for the challenges themselves. When the year is over, they all collectively are filed in a folder for the whole year. Then again, I have some folders that have copies of the finished layouts for my daughters’ weddings, my grandkids’ first years, all of my Ireland layouts and for the creative teams I’m on. It’s all about finding things later!

Since I set up this new(ish) laptop back in September, I haven’t taken the time to go through my 1400+ fonts and retag them for MainType. That’s something I really need to get on with! It’s a daunting task, but you know what they say. Focus on the first step. I know the time I spend on it now will decrease the time it takes me to find the one font I’m looking for later. The best part of MainType is that I decide what my tags are, based on MY workflow – how I search for things. And like everything else, if I work at it as I add new fonts, the amount of time I spend on it will go way down. But just writing about it is giving me a rash, so let’s move on!

One caveat. If you’re going to delete duplicate files, make sure you only delete the ones you’re not going to want to search for later. I made the mistake of using a Windows utility and chose the wrong metric so it removed a LOT of my original templates and left me with the PSD files for the last layout I used them for. Retrieving the original template takes a lot of time but is necessary when I use the search feature to find previews for my desired number of photos.

I’m interested to hear how YOU organize your stuff. So please, share your secrets!!


Sneak Peeks January 9th, 2020

Happy Thursday!! Our designers have lots of goodies releasing tomorrow! Let’s take a peek at what our CT created with them!

From Dagilicious

From JB Studio and Aimee Harrison

From Miss Fish

From Tinci

From Mags Graphics

From Heather Z

From Scrappin Serenity

From Aimee Harrison

From Cathy K

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Getting in on the Action(s)

When I was thinking about a topic for this week’s tutorial, I wasn’t inspired, so I did a Pinterest search for ideas. Are you ready to have your mind blown?? When I was playing with this subject so I could compose a coherent discussion, my mind certainly was!

I’ve referred to Actions in previous tutorials, but didn’t get into them too deeply. Your software came to you with a set of them already in place, and they form parts of the Guided Edits. If you’re unsure what Actions are, they’re like little scripts that tell Elements to make a series of predetermined changes to an image. The process is largely automatic, but there’re usually some options for personalizing the results. And I’m going to show you a really cool action I downloaded free. The image below is one I found at Pixabay; it turned out to be ideal for this little foray.

This is where I downloaded the Action I’ll show you. Most of the Actions here are completely free and have instructions within the Action menu itself. There are actions that perform one-step edits for portraits, actions that alter the colour of images, actions that make dodging and burning easier, ones that resize and sharpen images for different purposes, actions that watermark your photos… the list is endless! Check out the list here: The Coffee Shop Blog

Accessing the Actions on your workspace isn’t intuitive. Click on Windows>Actions to see which have been loaded (outside of the Guided Edits, since they’re specific to the Edit you’re playing with).

This is the default menu (with a couple of extra Actions I’ve loaded listed at the bottom). Click on the icon shown to open the Actions command centre. This is where you Load new ones.

The software will find any Actions you’ve downloaded and placed in the Actions folder of PSE. If you want to see which ones you already have, using the file explorer on your computer and look for .atn files. I have a LOT of them… I know. The one I’m going to show you is Coffee Shop Urban Grit.

Now that I’ve added it to the Actions menu, there it is! When I click on the triangle icon to the left of my chosen Action, it will open a dropdown that contains the script, or list of processes Elements is going to run.

Some Actions will have a dropdown list of steps that you can turn on or off. This one does too, but to see it I’d have to click on that triangle icon next to the name of the Action.

With the desired Action highlighted, click on the blue triangle icon shown to “play” the Action. The script will start running; with some Actions you can watch the changes being made flash over your image. With others the changes only happen when you decide where you want them. That’s how this one works.

So, it looks like all the software did was add a Layer Mask. The image itself looks exactly the same. But… the Brush tool menu is now open and the Layer Mask is selected. So I chose a large, soft, round brush and used it on the Layer Mask.

Can you see what’s happened? I just used the brush over the car and the girl. The sky, sea and sand weren’t touched. (Look at the Layer Mask to see what area was brushed over.)

But what else can I do with this now that I’ve played the Action? I duplicated the mask layer and it really amped up the effect. Here is where Blend Modes really come into play.

I liked the more obvious effect of the two mask layers but I wanted to try a few more things. I duplicated the mask layer and went down the list of Blend Modes until I found one I really liked. I’ve never found a way to use the Difference mode until now!

But the focal point of the image is too dark and muddy now. So I lowered the Opacity of the layer to 80% which made it better.

I moved that Difference layer down to the bottom and found the funk was still there but the image was much brighter. Can you see this on an art journal page?

I did one. More. Thing. If I decide to use this image on an art journal page, I’ll probably want to blend the sky/sea/sand areas into the paper. To make that possibility more workable, I changed the Background to a layer to make it editable. (I had NO clue what would happen when I started playing with it, I just wanted some more options.) To make the Background into an editable layer, right-click on the layer then choose Layer from Background from the dropdown. Then you can do what you like to that layer! I lowered the Opacity to 75% and was delighted to see that only the actual image background was changed. It became more transparent. So if I clip this finished image (with the layers merged) to a blended mask, it’ll look amazing. That’s next on my agenda!

This was just a quick-and-dirty guide to loading and using actions. There are so many ways they can be used for elevating our work. I hope you’ll download one or two and give them a whirl.

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements 2018)

Double Indemnity? Nope, Double Exposure!

Here we are, at the very end of 2019!! I hope you all had some wonderful times with family and friends over the holidays. If you’re celebrating tonight, stay safe!!

Are you ready for another Guided Edit? This one was only introduced with the 2018 version, but I LOVE it!! It’s under the Fun Edits tab and it creates a double exposure almost automatically. It caught my interest when I started seeing lots of double-exposure photos popping up on my Pinterest feed after I Googled PSE techniques. All the how-to’s were for Photoshop‘s full version and try as I might, I wasn’t getting the results I hoped for when I tried to find a work-around. Then I tried this. I know you’re going to love it. I’m playing with photos I downloaded from Pixabay and chose a black-and-white close-up portrait as my base photo.

Once I clicked on Guided>Fun Edit>Double Exposure this is the menu that comes up. (Remember, if you click on Cancel, you’re back to the Start Menu so be very sure that’s what you want to do…)

For this tutorial I just took the most basic route possible with my photo choices so as to make it as straight-forward as possible. I’ll be playing with it a lot more in the weeks to come, so you may see another more complex tut later. The Edit tools are lined up top-to-bottom for easy progression through the steps. If your photo needs to be cropped, this is when you’d do it, with the Crop tool. The Guide suggests cropping so your desired focal point is in the centre.

There’s also the option of Selecting only a portion of your photo. I skipped both the Crop and Select steps altogether.

Now, the software has some images already embedded in the Edit that you can use for your double exposures: a forest scene, a cityscape and some clouds. Here I’ve superimposed the forest scene over my photo; if you look in the upper left corner you can see the girl’s eye, but it’s pretty well concealed.

Thankfully the software knows that might not be the look you’re after. The Intensity of the superimposed photo can be easily adjusted by pulling the slider to the left. Here you can see the difference it makes to decrease it to about 47%.

There’s also the opportunity to move the superimposed image around a bit by using the Move tool. It can be activated either by clicking on the tool image in the upper left of your workspace, or by clicking on the tool bar in the menu.

The cityscape almost completely obliterates the original photo. Good thing it’s adjustable!

I decreased the Intensity to about 35% and the resultant image is really moody. It suggests the girl is homesick for this view, at least in my imagination…

What will the clouds do? Well, at first glance, we can see her nose and chin fairly clearly, but not her eye, and I think the eye is the key.

I’m conflicted as to which emotion this evokes. I think she looks wistful, so maybe it’s dream-like.

Okay, before we move on, I want to show you how to use another of your own photos. So instead of using a preset, I clicked on Import a Photo. It opened up Windows Explorer and let me find a suitable photo for the look I’m aiming for. Once I clicked on the thumbnail in the photos folder, I clicked on the Place button.

Wow! That’s a really dramatic image!! I don’t even know if there’s any adjustment needed.

But just to be sure, I decreased the Intensity  by 50%. There are still more ways to manipulate the image so let’s keep going.

Before I moved on, I opted to shift the rocks in the superimposed photo down and almost off her face. It makes the sky more of an element in the image and you can’t see the demarcation where the superimposed photo ends. Further down the menu, there are some more Effects presets. So working with the image with the superimposed photo at 50%, let’s hit it with each of the Effects to see what they do. The very first one, top left of the tool menu is No Effect… just the way it is.

I’ve circled the Effect with each image so you can see what they look like right out of the box. This one adds a lot of colour.

This one makes the original image more vivid and increases the contrast.

Here, it’s basically a black-and-white version. If my original photo had been a colour portrait, it might make a big difference to use this Effect.

This one is a soft, rainbow-hued look.

I think this one would be amazing with underwater photography, or for photos with a beachy, watery theme.

This adds a touch of cool colour to a tonal black-and-white image.

I’m showing my age. All that’s missing is a prism in the middle.

The last one gives the whole image a warm, golden look.

After seeing them all, I decided I like the third version best. I decreased the Intensity to 50% again and have a really eye-catching image. I might add an inspirational quote into the dark area to the right of her neck. What do you think?

Before I shut down for the night, I decided to play with a couple of other photos I had. The one of the stone bridge provided a perfect frame for a superimposed face, but I didn’t take the time to figure out how to use the Guided Edit. Instead… I took a lot more time doing it manually. Duplicated layers, layer masks, erased areas, clipping masks, more layer masks to bring out the blue in her eyes, blend modes, sheesh. There’s gotta be a better way! When I find it I’ll share it with you!

I hope that whatever 2019 brought your way is greatly improved on in 2020! I know there are big things coming up for our family, details to follow. Happy New Year, dear GingerScrappers!

Sneak Peeks December 19th 2019

Happy Thursday! We have 6 more days until Christmas! This year has gone by sooooo fast! Are you ready for the new year? Have you scrapped your memories for 2019 yet? Our designers have more goodies to inspire you! Let’s take a peek at some CT pages!

From Mags Graphics

From Snickerdoodle Designs

From Aimee Harrison


From Tinci

From LDrag

From Alexis Designs

From Wimpychompers

Tutorial Tuesday (Potpourri)

Beyond the Ordinary – Holiday Photos

Wow, can it really be only 8 days until Christmas? Even fewer until the first night of Chanukah… Families all over are getting ready for the Main Event and of course, no special occasion is ever complete without the photos to prove it happened. I think I can speak for most of us when I say I’ve taken a LOT of really ho-hum photos over the years. If you’re like me and browsing through the Gallery in late December makes you envious of the amazing photos OTHER scrappers have scrapped, I’m going to offer some thoughts on how to make our holiday photos better. I’m not going to completely rehash this tut from last year but some things do bear repeating.

First, make sure you have fresh batteries and a large SD card for all the great shots you’re going to take. If you’re into phonetography, you might want to trim your in-phone collection by saving them to your computer or the Cloud, then deleting them from your internal storage.

Make a list – physical or mental – of the shots you MUST have. We all have our own preferences for what we want to document so don’t feel like you’re being forced to conform. But there are some sort of standard images we all like.

Even if you feel like decorating for the holidays is a dreaded chore, take some photos of the process. Get a shot of the decor while it’s still in the box. If your kids are helping, turn them into models for your portfolio. Remember to get down on their level. Even the cutest kids aren’t great photo subjects if they’re always shot from above. And get in close!!!! I know I’ve mentioned before that the best crop is the one you do in the viewfinder. so fill the frame! Don’t be afraid to zoom in. Same goes for your pets, if you want them in your photos.

When shooting your tree, look for a different approach than the typical 8-feet-away-so-the-whole-tree-and-gifts-are-in-the-shot. Maybe take some close-ups of your favourite ornaments. Use a portrait mode to soften the background and make the ornament totally the focal point. Get down on the floor and shoot up toward the topper, or shoot down through the branches and make the presents the subject. Turn off all the room lights and shoot the tree with just the tree lights. Experiment with shutter speed and aperture to create some lovely bokeh effects. Add a human or a pet to the frame. Or take a photo of the lights reflected in a window. (If you don’t want your reflection in your photo, stand at an angle to the window and look carefully at what’s in the viewfinder.) Or take a photo of the tree THROUGH the window! Turn off your flash though, so you don’t spoil the shot.

If you’re celebrating Chanukah, there are lots of great ways to take photos of your menorrah. A series, with each night’s new candle lighting, would make a lovely layout. Look at the angles. On the last night, when all the candles are burning, an angled shot from one end with each flame visible would be incredible. Some of my favourite photos of my grandsons are of them lighting a candle, with the soft glow of the flame on their cheeks and wonder in their eyes. (Their mom takes amazing photos.)

We’ve all got a folder full of group photos where everybody is stiffly lined up and fake-smiling at the camera. So how can we take better group shots? Having the subjects doing something together is a good start. If you have snow in your area, have the group build a snowman, or have a snowball fight. Or play football in the snow. Beach ball volleyball (in sand or snow) would make some entertaining shots. But if you just have to have a posed group shot, give some thought to who goes where. If you can arrange the people so that their faces form little triangles, you’ll have a nicer image. Have them turn their shoulders toward each other or the centre of the photo so they can get a bit closer together. Make sure you’ve chosen a landscape setting so everybody will be in focus. Think about trying not to cut people’s legs off. If you can, shoot everybody down front from the waist up. Your subjects will thank you.

Do you go all out with a gorgeous table-scape for your guests? I’ve never done it, but I love seeing how others do it. If you’re hosting and have your table all set well in advance (like the experts recommend for sanity’s sake 😉 ) take a few minutes to look at it with your photographer’s eye. Take a shot of a single place setting. Try and get the whole table in a shot, easiest if you shoot from one end. Take a closeup of your crystal.

Don’t forget to get some shots of the dinner prep. Be stealthy and get some candids of the main cook, or if that’s you, get some of your helpers. Look for interesting camera angles of your turkey, ham or standing rib roast. Ask someone to be the carver and get some action shots. And look for smiling faces as the meal commences.

What about gifts? Well, there’re lots of opportunities around gift opening. Get down on the floor with the kids. Try to capture the moment when they identify what’s in the package. If it’s your thing, you can take some of them channeling Vanna White, holding up a favourite gift. If there’s a very special gift being given, arrange for it to be delivered when you have a moment to frame your image. I really wish I had a photo of myself when I opened a gift from my sister quite a few years ago. It was a resin frame with dragonflies on it, but what made it truly special was that it held a photo of me with my grandfather, who died when I wasn’t yet 4 years old. If you know in advance, you can be ready to catch the emotion.

After the dust settles, you can relax, but don’t forget there might still be some great photos yet to happen. Like when a child falls asleep in the middle of a game, or the dog takes off with a long piece of ribbon… they could be the best shots you get all day. But don’t concentrate so hard on getting good photos that you don’t have fun! At a family reunion, my niece made a point of taking a selfie with every single one of us, and they were all fantastic. If you have mad selfie skills, give it a whirl. You might surprise yourself!

I’ll be taking next Tuesday off, as I expect most of you will too… bigger fish to fry! Merry Christmas! Mazel tov! Kwanzaa blessings to all!